Fest creators were told it was a risky idea – to create a music festival the same weekend as Outside Lands up in San Francisco would be the start of a competition no one would want to be in. Well, whoever “they” were, they were wrong. People showed, they danced, they sang, they ate, they drank, they laughed, and they made new friends and promises to meet up again next year. I’m pretty sure I over heard a band or two remark how they loved the area and hoped to be invited back again. Yes! C’mon back to the Central Coast of California, where the trees are tall, the spaces are wide, the sun shines bright, and the whales breach high.
Tucked in the woods off of Graham Hill Road, between scenic Highway 1 and the twisting turns of Highway 9, Felton’s Big Basin Railroad was the perfect spot for this festival. Who knew? I’ve visited that Railroad a few times, taken a ride from under the trees to the sands of the Santa Cruz Wharf and back, and it never really dawned on me that the beautiful space could host such an event. Two full days of music with headliners such as Railroad Earth, Zappa Plays Zappa, Ani DiFranco, Animal Liberation Orchestra, Rodney Crowell, James McMurtry, and New Monsoon, this was set up to draw fans of the jamband scene for sure, as well as fans of Americana roots rock. There were two outdoor stages, the main stage labeled the “Sol Stage” and secondary stage called “Mountain Stage”, as well as the Bret Harte Hall, or what I was referring to the whole weekend as “the Barn” (I’m horrible with names whether human, animal, or architectural – I do not discriminate), the only indoor stage set up and where you could surely go to get out of the sun for a bit. I may have miscounted, but there were about 30 or more vendors there, selling food, drink, and hand-made wears (clothes and jewelry). I, for one, appreciated the lack of ability to purchase bottled water, rather they said you could bring a container or they could sell you one to fill up, all day long for free, at any number of water stations set up throughout the park. For those who arrived early, we were sent to the lower parking lot and offered a $1 train ride up to the entrance – which after finding out the walk was over a half mile, I opted for as I was carrying quite a heavy pack…. and, well, the kid in me wanted a train ride!!! I loved it that they had the old steam engine going throughout the day, although that’s not the train I rode (unfortunately). Every once in a while, you could hear the big old steam engine give out a long blow as it chugged on by, steam blowing up through the trees. It was perfect that they also had the Railroad park side open for visitors, letting the big train run down to the wharf and back, especially when Railroad Earth was on stage. A little nod to all the hobos in the crowd for certain. I also heard they had a log cutting contest and a little bit of a human circus act performing on the lawn on Sunday, but unfortunately missed them both. Next year!
Each day, gates were set to open by 11:00 am, with the first bands hitting stage about 11:45 and the last of the night starting at about 8:00 pm. Saturday began on the main stage, the big one, the Sol Stage, with the Dead Winter Carpenters. I’ve wanted to catch these guys for a while now, and was glad to see them on the bill, so close to home. Playing Americana roots-rock, bluegrass, mixed with a bit of jazz and a touch of honest southern alternative country that can be deep as well as fun and lighthearted. The five piece band hailing from Northern California/Tahoe are: Jenni Charles – fiddler/vocalist,?Dave Lockhart – upright bassist/vocalist, Jesse Dunn – rhythm guitarist/vocalist, Bryan Daines – lead guitarist/vocalist, and Brian Huston – drummer/vocalist. Love me that bluegrass sound – makes my heart smile, my ears chuckle, and my feet want my body to get up and dance! Playing some familiar and new, they offered up about an hour long set that got the early birds up grooving and having a grand time. It’s hard to be the first band on stage for the first day of a first festival. From the smiles on the faces, everyone who was smart enough to get there early to hear these guys was pleased as puddin’.
Heading over to the Bret Harte Hall (The Barn) for a little respite from the sun, I caught the Santa Cruz Dead Allstars – a little blend of two Grateful Dead cover bands (The China Cats and Slugs and Roses), cranking out that familiar old sound, flanked by the Steal Your Face and a young Jerry Garcia, smiling and waving back at ya. We sure do miss him…. and this week even more than any other. The anniversary of both his birthday and the day he had to leave us all. Yeah, we f*ckinmissim. I walked into the barn on a groovin’ “Shakedown Street” that had the local crowd shaking it pretty good. I hear a loud, “We Love You Jerry!!” as they go into a nice, sweetly played, “Eyes of the World” which then moves into “Scarlet Begonias”, Jerry would’ve been proud…..
I caught only a bit of the Allstars, as I wanted to head back over to the Sol Stage to catch Ani DiFranco, I was pretty pumped as I have never seen her live before. Ironic as she is from Buffalo, the area where I grew up. I guess I did high-tail it out of there pretty soon after college though, so I surely missed out. I have three words for her set. Blew. Me. Away. That is all…… I mean really, need I say more? Yes, I can’t JUST say that! This one-woman show was just heartfelt, a little dirty, in-your-face, raw, fun, playful, angst-ridden, ironic – a big old reality check. She played for an hour and a half to a crowd filled with dedicated fans who sang along with her every song. Since I, unfortunately don’t yet know all of her music, I’ll just be mentioning those recognizable ones that hit me.
For an hour and a half, she and her guitar, alone on stage, giving it up from deep within her core, laying it out on stage. Playing all acoustic that day, she had her strum hand wrapped in black electric tape, protecting the fingers, keeping them strong so she could hit the strings even harder. All I kept thinking was, “man, she is so bad ass!” Yet, at the same time, she showed a vulnerability with her fans, apologetic and appreciative, respectful and maybe even a little rejuvenated from her visit back to the Santa Cruz area (remorseful that she hadn’t been here in a while, but remarking a return). There was, “Shy”, “And you’ll stop me, won’t you, if you’ve heard this one before. Yeah, the one where I surprise you, showing up at your front door. Saying, let’s not ask what’s next, or how, or why. I am leaving in the morning, so let’s not be shy.” Giving a little hint to the next tune, she says to the crowd, “What is a man slut?” After a little banter with the audience about sluts and men, men sluts, etc., she dives into, “Promiscuity”, definitely a song I’ve heard played more than once, in more than one club or living room, by more than one friend. “And, promiscuity is research and development. Evolution begs embellishment; and, baby, you’re a star.” Of course.
“Independence Day”, she refers to as her one bummer song. A very sweetly sung moment, in her otherwise rockin’ set. Her voice crackled with intensity, as she sang, “and don’t leave me here. I’ve got your back now, you’d better have mine. Cause you say the coast is clear, but you say that all the time…..” It reminded me a bit of Rickie Lee Jones, from her Traffic From Paradise release, most of which was used in the movie “When a Man Loves a Woman” with Andy Garcia and Meg Ryan (1994).
She threw some respect back to those who had influenced her, giving a dedication to Pete Seeger with, “Splinter”, what she calls her environmental song, playing it from the heart, the guitar tight in her grip. And then there was the “straight up rant”, her acapella moment, her serenade to Utah Phillips, giving us a gritty, “Dump the Bosses of Your Back,” just as the steam train whistles. Ani says, “that’s how ya know Utah is hangin’ out!”
Others like, “Careless Words” and “Genie” which was super deep, heavy, played on a big, four-stringed tenor guitar, standing up there, putting it all out on stage, her face askew at times, as she got deep into the rhythm. I can’t imagine how her sound changes with a full band. Like I said, Ani is heartfelt, ironic, fun, raw; so much describes her sense of musicality. The music is serious, but with lyrics like, “And you came out of the blue, Like twilight’s first star. And we picked up on each other, from somewhere deep and far. And we woke up… married, after one drunk f*ck. And I couldn’t believe you’d found me, I couldn’t believe my luck. Cause I did my time before love came to find me”, we can’t really take her all that serious, can we?
She kindly offered up some new songs from her newest release “Allergic to Water” (out of her hands but not yet into ours, hopefully October) before taking a request (“Gravel”) and sending out acknowledgements to fans she recognized, (little Turdy’s Mama!) saying she missed the Santa Cruz area and would make a plan to return soon. I spied the woman she was talking to and you could see the joy and appreciation on her face.
Ending her set with what she says is a song we can dance to, she breaks into, “Shameless”, before were treated to a two-fer encore, starting with “Both Hands” and ending with my favorite being the recognizable, “32 Flavors”…… a crowd sing a long as I look back out to the crowd to see everyone, I mean everyone, singing along with her.
After Ani, I headed back over to The Barn to catch Portland, Oregon’s Fruition and their rockin raging electrified blue grass sound. They packed that barn from wall to wall, dancing twirling hippies kicking up the dry summer dust. I had to go speak to them afterwards, letting them know that you could feel their energy in that barn, all the way to the back wall. I caught this band last year playing an impromptu set at the local Farmer’s Market pop-up music tent, as they stopped through Monterey on their way up to the High Sierra Music Festival last July. I could feel their energy then and knew I’d want to see them again.
Their songs were fast and furious as well as smooth and sultry, in a bluegrass kind of way. They can also have a bit of a southern Americana rock feel at times, with the pumped up guitars, bass and drums, with a swirl of mandolin here and there. Vocals supplied by three of the five members, Jay Cobb Anderson, who also plays lead acoustic and electric guitars as well as harmonica, Kellen Asebroek, who also plays rhythm acoustic guitar and piano, and Mimi Naja, who rocks the mandolin and acoustic guitars. The band is filled out by Keith Simon on upright and electric bass, and Tyler Thompson on drums, percussion and the occasional banjo. Jay’s electric leads really changes their sound, takes the feel of their songs to another level; and he is also great to watch and photograph, expressive and energetic, giving it all to you from all he’s got.
From the pure energetic with songs like, “Blue Light” “it’s that blue light, in your eyes, drives me crazy, but it’s alright…..” to the rowdy bluegrass coupled with great harmonies in “The Wanter”, running away from that wedding ring, to the groovy ones…. Or “Bent”, cause they can’t catch you if you’re moving, and they can’t find you if you’re gone, that’s for sure. I really liked what I thought they called, simply, “Groove” as they hinted it was a, “song for all groovers out there.” It was a little harken to the Jerry Garcia/David Grisman days, that mix of bluegrass, jazz, and a little, well, groove.
I really like this band. They are a lot of fun to listen and dance to, and watch for that matter. I love it when a band gives it their all. They gave it their all and then some, for certain, for every song too, from the quick to the quiet. If they weren’t yet popular ’round here, they sure are now! Hoots, hollers, whoops and ye-haws let them know they were certainly doin’ something right.
Heading back over to the Sol Stage, it was time to catch some Animal Liberation Orchestra, or fondly known as, ALO, for which had to break out the ear plugs as they can crank it! They put out alotta sound they do. If you don’t know ALO, they are: Dan Lebowitz (Lebo) on guitar and vocals, Zach Gill lead vocals, keyboards, mandolin, and other odd things, Dave Brogan on drums, and, sitting in on bass was Reed Mathis of Tea Leaf Green, another SF Bay Area jam band. He took over for Steve Adams who was off recording with Nicki Bluhm & The Gramblers for their new disc that is on it’s way to a speaker near you. Just some keys, bass, drums and Lebo’s magical guitar work making it all so, um, liberating!!! Smiles for miles in that crowd for sure.
There is a running theme through ALO’s music – just dance people, just dance. Giving us, “Dead Still Dance” and lyrics like “Cause somewhere in the afterlife, even the dead still dance. We dance, we dance…..” Yes. Yes we do. You can’t help it. This band puts a groove in your move, a woogie to your boogie, a trance in your dance. Well, tried to rhyme that. Never was that great at poetry…. or grammar for that matter. I remember the notes scribbled on the corner of my homework from the teachers, “run on sentence” being the most common and became my middle-name in middle school……
“Blew Out the Walls” is another one I just love….. “from the dark recesses of your mind, got a parachute, gonna be alright….. you just keep dancin’….” And then there is, “Falling Dominos”, with that slow funky beat, with light touches of lead guitar dancing around the stage, and the more upbeat “Plastic Bubble” ….., “oooh-ooooh, living in a plastic bubble and it’s good.” Lebo lights up the stage with this one, bringing the notes to the highest peak, really putting a feeling to the song, a feeling you are in that plastic bubble, floating around above the crowd.
If they had one slower, sweeter song in their set, it would be “Waiting for Jaden”, with the end getting quiet and gentle, Zach picking up the melodic (I think), the red hand-held mouth harp-thingy \with keys. This song moved quite well into, “Maria”, which is, well, the other slower, sweeter song in their set. OK, so they had two.
Late in the set, they invited up members of both Fruition and New Monsoon for a powerfully sung, heavy hitting, deep feeling “With a Little Help From my Friends”, a nice surprise and nod to The Beatles and Sir Paul, who was set to close out the San Francisco Giant’s former stadium, Candlestick Park, a week later. Behind it all, a tight bond they’ve made from being out on tour together. It really was a great moment in their set, energetic, filled with joy and spontaneity. Perfect and fitting for any ALO show.
Between the funky groove that Zach puts to the keys, and the shredding, spacey, atmospheric sounds that Lebo creates, it is another band that gives me that sunny-day music kind of sound; music that paints a picture in your mind, a beautiful landscape passes you by as you sail on down the road, wind in your hair, with no plans and not a care about it. Not taking themselves too seriously, ALO’s lyrics are harmonious with their sound.
I head back over to the Barn to catch an acoustic set from Stu Allen and Justin Purtill – knowing who Stu Allen is, I knew I was in for a little acoustic Jerry love. It turned out to be a threesome, comprised of Stu Allen, Justin Purtill, and a drummer I wish I caught the name of, as he sat in with New Monsoon as well, later that night. Stu Allen is a local musician and head of a gig called, Stu Allen and Mars Hotel, playing…. you guessed it, the songs of the good ‘ole Grateful Dead. He’s been lighting up the stages around the Bay Area for more than 10 years and has got himself quite a following. So, no surprise to see the Barn packed with happy heads, swaying and smiling, and moving and grooving to the acoustic sounds of Jerry Garcia. Justin Purtill is a new name for me, so had to look him up. A bass player for over 10 years, he’s shared the stage with names you’ll recognize: Donna Jean Godchaux, Steve Kimock, Sandy Rothman, Melvin Seals and JGB, Esperanza Spalding, and a handful more impressive names. And, on drums….. like I said, wish I caught his name (sorry!).
I walked in on a groovin’, “Goodnight Irene”, one of my favorite Jerry Garcia Band tunes, lucky we were to hear that as an encore, lingering in your mind and soul, singing you off to sleep late into the night. Stu says, “How ’bout some train songs?”, to which he receives agreement from the crowd. Why not, right? We are at a railroad station after-all. They slip into “Freight Train” and then “Trouble in Mind”, both including references to life on the railroad tracks. I have to remark on just one more song – “Gomorrah”, just a song….. The crowd quieted down nicely, you could hear people throughout the Barn sharing exclamations and interjections, claps and toe taps, and almost, just almost hear a pin drop during the bass solo from Justin, using the bow to make it sing ever so smoothly. There is such a soft groove to this song, a gentle sway, deep to your soul. I could almost hear the voices of Jaclyn and Gloria, singing sweetly in the background….. “The wife of Lot got turned to salt, because she looked behind her…. because she looked behind her….. because she looked behind her…”
I might say, this was one of my favorite sets of the day. Can’t help myself. Gets to my soul, deep into my soul, brings me back to the days I miss so much, so very much. I was lucky to catch Jerry do a handful of acoustic shows on Broadway in the late ’80’s, and many a rockin’ set at one of his favorite spots in The City, San Francisco’s Warfield, on Market Street. And, c’mon, acoustic music is just so special.
Back over for the last act of the night on the Mountain Stage, we get a closing set from Rodney Crowell – his energetic roots-rock southern country sound had everyone up and boogying. Don’t know much about the guy, have heard him on the local radio station, reminds me of music my Mom would like. She loved to dance – to pretty much anything that she could move her little feet to. From the Irish jigs from home to the Canadian crooners in Helen Ready and Gordon Lightfoot, to the rockin’ country of one of her favorites in Garth Brooks, she would have loved Rodney Crowell. I loved it for her. I could definitely feel her energy there with me – for Rodney, for Fruition, for the Dead Winter Carpenters, and the next day for the Naked Bootleggers (although she wouldn’t like the naked part), The Coffis Brothers, James McMurtry for sure, and she’d probably love Railroad Earth, with their blend of bluegrass, country, and to me, a little taste of green Irish tossed in here and there. OK, sidebar. Sorry ’bout that.
With five number one hits, Crowell is well known in the arena he plays. He pulled out hits in “Earthbound”, “Sex and Gasoline”, “When Losers Rule the World” (oh, don’t get me started on the way we can play with the title of this song) – all three of which I recognized and was familiar enough to know some of the lyrics. Crowell has been around the block more than once and sure knows how to write songs that last.
Rodney remarked the tour they’d been on and what they’d be doing the next day. He says, “We’d like to remain in the moment and be present for ya, but tomorrow, we’ll be ready for this….” as they break into “Long Journey Home”, a song about getting back to the simple way of life, after a bit of a long life on the road.
The ballad of the set was, “God I’m Missing You” – a lonely love song, missing someone who is gone, whether just temporarily, forever, or for the unknown, it’s a sad feeling to miss someone so much. The lyrics were soulful and sad, “The night’s down to nothing, The stars have withdrawn. The horizon splits open that silvery dawn. The ghost of your breathing won’t leave me alone. God, I’m missing you.” If you’ve ever missed someone deeply, you know this song well.
I headed out into the audience to grab a shot of the stage and got caught up in the pure fun the crowd was having, dancing and swinging partners, singing along to the chorus, enjoying every minute of it. Now that’s the way to do it!
With Crowell being the last act on the main stage, I headed back over to the Barn to catch the late show with New Monsoon, who kept the late nighters raging for another hour and a half, sweaty set. The more I hear these guys, the more they grow on me. They have a decent following, packing that barn from wall to wall, from the front of the stage to the back tables. A San Francisco jam band since 2000, they are: Bo Carper – vocals and acoustic guitar, Jeff Miller – vocals and electric guitar, Phil Ferlino – keys, Marshall Harrel – bass, and Michael Pinkham – drums, who was not sitting in with the band this eve. They’ve got eight releases out there with music covering acoustic to electric, jazz to latin to jam, with influences coming through such as The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd to Waits, Clapton, Hendrix and Garcia to the distinctive sounds of Santana, Beck and even Thelonious Munk’s cool jazz. They’ve played the stages at Bonaroo, High Sierra, Telluride Bluegrass, Wakarusa, and have been invited to join Jamcruise a handful of times. Improvisational styles, open jams, deep and percussive, ya never know what they will put out.
As I am still getting to know their music, there were a few familiar and more than a few new songs, or songs I haven’t heard yet. The familiar were, “Next Best Thing”, “Greenhouse” (one of my favs) and “Light of Day”, a long, crazy, changing, electrifying jams. “Sweet Brandywine” was maybe less familiar, but nonetheless still a tune that hooks you, starting off slow and smooth, in the spirit of a glass of brandywine after dinner; but, then the energy slowly builds to a rousting jam, taking over the room, the stage, the bodies flailing about, thumping and jumping to the funk from the stage.
“No Reservation” and “Bo’s Blues” are both open jams, the first, I thought, a nod to the sound of The Allman Brothers or Grateful Dead, and the second a throw back to early Santana grooves, heavy on the guitar and organ. Then there is, “Raven’s Eye”, with more of a latin, southern flair, quick beats, deep bass and drum beats keeping everyone in the crowd on their feet. About half way into this 7 minute jam, there’s a little nod to the good ‘ole GD with a Shakedown tease, Jeff Miller getting all funky with that “wah-wah” sound Jerry used to love. Keeping it in that underwater bubble, where the world sounds different. But a minute later, I’m hearing a little Floyd tease, with “Brick in the Wall”, which can liken the rhythm and bass lines of Shakedown, making it an easy transition in the song. And, there is a familiar guitar riff that opens and closes this song…. it’s on the tip of my tongue. Maybe it’s kind of “Devil Went Down to Georgia”-ish?….. ug…… I loved the respectful toss back to three big influential songs from prominent musicians that surly left a significant mark on the music world.
“Light of Day” and “Other Side” has guitar jams infused with Hendrix, heavy, rippin’, electrified, shredding… A nice nodd to another influence, they crank up Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” – you know, a little whiskey and bad cocaine, either poison will get you the same, but if that don’t kill ya soon, the women will, down at the Spanish Moon. “Daddy Long Legs” ending the set, getting everyone thoroughly danced-out, whigged-out, exhausted to the bone. The way you should feel at the end of the night, from a long day of music and dancing in the sunshine.
And then there was Sunday! I was sorry to have missed Dan Bern and the McCoy Tyler Band who both played early on Sunday………. The traffic on Saturday was a breeze, but not on Sunday. Nope. Sunday was a different story….. When it’s a sunny day, everyone and their brother is trying to get to the beach, and there is only one way into Santa Cruz from Monterey, and that is the one-lane Highway 1. Major fail on my part, not planning for that, not remembering how that can make a 45 minute ride into an hour and a half loooooonnnnnng ride. Late, late, late. I did make it for The Motet though, and oh so very glad I got to see them.
A Colorado-based band, The Motet sure is super jazzy, incredibly funky, and not surprisingly loads of fun! Entertaining to the core, not only can they it lay down, they give great stage performance, exciting to watch and listen to. They remind me a bit of Stevie Wonder, Parliament Funkadelic, or Jamiroquai, and are tons of fun like String Cheese, Galactic, and other funk-based bands. Hitting up their FB page, I see they are announcing a NYE event in Portland at the Crystal Ballroom, not surprising labeled as “New Year’s Eve in Funklandia”. They’ve got seven albums out, their latest just released in February of this year, and (as I read on their website), deciding to take a new approach and use analog, “by using tape, tubes and transistors. This gives the music a warm, rich, and organic tone with the crunch and bite of a classic ‘70s funk record.” Hard hitting funk and jazz, strong afro-beats, rhythmically driven, and a big dash of disco and soul, they show a deep commitment to what they do and those who have influenced them. The Motet is: Dave Watts (drums), Joey Porter (keys), Garrett Sayers (bass), Ryan Jalbert (guitar), Gabe Mervine (trumpet), Matt Pitts (tenor sax), and the funky frontman-danceman in Jans Ingber (lead vocals & percussion). Super kind folks too, hanging around to meet and chat with fans. I opted to say hello and let them know how much the Central Coast loved them and would love to see them come back very soon. Touring for more than a decade (although membership has changed a few times, the current line-up together as been together for several years), they’ve got command of the stage and audience with songs like, “Like We Own It”, “Extraordinary High”, and “Keep on Don’t Stoppin’”, they were infectious, creating a dance frenzy on the lawn in the late morning sunshine!
I moseyed back to the Mountain Stage to check out a bit of the Naked Bootleggers, a local bluegrass outfit from Santa Cruz. Well, you can guess what they played, and they even had a washboard to boot! I wanted to go tell them to go listen to The North Mississippi Allstars. If they wanted to hear some crazy washboard, they need to hear Cody Dickinson; he takes the washboard to a whole new level. They played an enjoyable set, although short and sweet. They were sure having as much fun as the folks down in front of the stage who were up dancing and swinging and smiling and singing.
The Bootleggers had a short set as Zappa Plays Zappa was set to play the main stage, and, well, they are big and loud – in a good way, in a very good way. And, just like the first time I saw them, my mind was scrambled, in a good way; I laughed out loud, I twisted my ears to hear what everyone was uniquely doing throughout the music, each note, each exclamation so very integral to the whole. Looking around at the very packed lawn in front of the stage and thought to myself, “this is what they are hear for.” They were on fire, so tight, each note played with purpose, in the perfect spot, just as Frank would have. What a band Dweezil has put together. I mean it takes a certain kind of talent to be able to pull off this music. There is Scheila Gonzalez on sax, flute, keys, and vocals. She oozes talent, just oozes. Ben Thomas on lead vocals and some guitar and trombone; I love him, I fuckin love him, he’s such a character. Mainly in control of the keys, (as Scheila plays so much more), is Chris Norton, who also provides a lot of vocal talent as well as comedy relief, he is another character, who on this huge stage, could barely be seen hidden behind his rig, but he was surely heard. For the heavy, quick rhythm, one Ryan Brown on drums, helping direct and control the pace and groove of each song along with Kurt Morgan on bass – animated, expressive, a great bass player, interacts with everyone on stage as well as in the audience.
“Is the band ready?” he says to the band. “We got a nice summer-time party set for ya. Let’s do it.” Opening with, “Zomby Woof”, just quirky, all over the place in a tight, well-thought out, planned way. That’s Zappa for ya. Every note, every hit, every interjection is there for a dam good reason; to break down the particles of your mind and have you question music all over again…… The first time I saw Zappa Plays Zappa, it took me a week to get my chin up from the floor and over a month to get my brain back in order. Seriously.
Dweezil says, “This next song is about a lady who liked to name herself after a creamy spreadable product.” as they begin, “Suzy Creamcheese”, (“oh baby, now, what’s got into ya? Yeah, yeah, yeah!”) which moves rather smoothly into, “Call Any Vegetable” (“pick up your phone, think of a vegetable lonely at home. Call any vegetable and the chances are good, the vegetable will respond to you, la, la, la, la!!”). Seriously or not so seriously, songs about a lonely vegetable, is just meant to be a song about a lonely vegetable, nothing else. Don’t try to find too much deep meaning in “Suzy Creamcheese” either, for that matter.
But, he did also write songs that were relevant to someone or something. “Redunzl”, or “RDNZL” (different spellings over time) is a contraction of redundant and Repunzel. Dweezil told the story about Ruth Underwood, a percussionist with the Mothers of Invention from 1967 – 1977, who apparently wasn’t fond of having to improvise. Frank knew this and challenged her one night, to which she stuck to her, um, drum and preferred to follow the score. So, the main melody was written by Frank during a soundcheck, in a stream of consciousness before the show began that night, and handed it to her and said to her, “Play this.” This is a super jazzy number, percussively based with very strong saxophone from Scheila, who blew it away! Shit, girlz got sax!
They hit it so hard they blew the speaker fuses and out went the system during, “Montana”! No sound for the audience, the monitors kept working so they kept playing. It was quickly corrected, yet to only blow again! This time, they stop……With no mics, no keys, no horn, no nuthin’, what to do? Dweezil turns to Kurt and Ryan and mutters something… and they just start to rage thunderously for us, giving the crowd an unplanned, pure improvisational moment that we surly won’t hear again. Frankly (no pun intended here folks), it truly worked out extremely well, in my opinion!. The crowd went nuts! After a few short minutes, the crew had the sound back on, and the rest of the band slowly made their way back to stage to a crowd couldn’t be happier.
Taking a request from a distant shout from the audience, they start into “Dinah-Moe Humm”, which I dunno about anyone else, but this song just has me laughing the whole time. The lyrics…… oh the lyrics….. “So I pulled on her hair, got her legs in the air, and asked if she had any cooties in there. (Whaddya mean cooties! No cooties on me!!!!). Kiss my aura….. Dora…. M-M-M….. It’s real angora…… Would y’all like some more-a? Here on the flora?” It was quite a sing-a-long, Ben had the whole place singing with him, “Dinah-Moe, Dinah-Moe!”, a sea of happy, giggling faces dancing along. I barely noticed the transitional beat, but suddenly, we were well into, “Muffin Man”, sans the storytelling intro, but thoroughly as thunderous – all Dweezil here, all Dweezil.
The encore was a big, large, loud, powerful, “Cosmik Debris.” Slow and smooth, sass and jive, deep and funky, ook here brother, who you jiving with that cosmik dibris!
Reading further, you’ll get that I love Railroad Earth and was blown away by the talent and energy of SambaDá, but Zappa took the festival by storm and electrified the skies in Felton that day, maybe even scorched the earth a bit. I mean, they blew the sound for gosh sakes – and I thought ALO cranked up the volume the day before! And they made me laugh – and if you know me, I love to laugh! If you can combine music and comedy, like Zappa or Cake (first two that come to mind) then you got me!
I headed over to the Barn to catch some shade and hear a little James McMurtry, which was definitely a bit of a easy break on the ears and mind. For McMurtry’s set, they set up seats in front, and created the dance floor behind fest goers who opted to sit. The entire band is tall. Three men. Three tall men. OK, so I couldn’t see how tall the drummer was, but jeesh, James and his bass player were trees man, trees. (This is stuff us not-so-tall people notice.) McMurty is another country-influenced band, a three-man outfit, simple music but well played. Known for poignant lyrics, he’s got an immense catalog, starting with his first release in 1998 leading up to his latest, due out sometime this year. His most recognizable song, “We Can’t Make it Here” is sited as one of the best protest songs written. A divisive song, the line between the rich and the poor, the politicians and the people, “…..Will work for food,?will die for oil.?Will kill for power and to us the spoils. The billionaires get to pay less tax.?The working poor get to fall through the cracks.?Let ’em eat jellybeans, let ’em eat cake.?Let ’em eat sh$%, whatever it takes.?They can join the Air Force, or join the Corps if they can’t make it here anymore….”
I only recognized a few of his songs, since I’ve not seen him before and I really don’t own any of his music. “Where’d You Hide the Body” was another one hauntingly familiar to me, most likely due to radio play somewhere in my life. The lyrics paint a picture of two people who no longer communicate, or share their deepest stories any longer. Things have changed, there is a guilt to your eyes and you won’t let me in. Is it that bad? The silence is so intense, you almost want to ask, “What, did ya kill someone? Where’d you hide the body?” and hope you still don’t get an answer. (!!!!)
Another big, familiar song was “Choctaw Bingo” and this one had the crowd in the back dancing and maybe those sitting in chairs wishing they were in the back dancing too! “He’s got an Airstream trailer and a Holstein cow. His still makes whiskey ’cause his still knows how. He plays choctaw bingo every Friday night. You know he had to leave Texas but he won’t say why…..” A driven beat and raw guitar, this is signature McMurtry. No wonder I found myself dancing with everyone.
Bummed for the cross-over in schedule between McMurtry and the Coffis Brothers and the Mountain Men, but since there was no rule of three (typically we get to shoot the first three songs from the pit, and that is it!), I got to enjoy the first part of McMurtry and the second part of The Coffis Brothers. I’m glad I caught this country roots-rock legend, on a small stage – the laid back atmosphere seemed perfect for his sound. (Yes, I said legend. Oye, the things you can find out on the internet. McMurtry was a part of a group called, Buzzin’ Cousins, for a while that included the likes of John Mellencamp, John Prine, Joe Ely, and Dwight Yoakam and they appeard on the soundtrack for a movie called, “Falling from Grace”. With music spanning nearly two decades and mingling with the likes of those names, he might deserve it.)
I really dig The Coffis Brothers and Mountain Men. JBO has enjoyed them twice before, opening up for Jackie Greene in the early spring. Young fellas, Jamie and Kellen Coffis, brothers from the Santa Cruz area, very talented guys, with very talented friends in their lead guitar Kyle Poppin, drummer Henry Chadwick, and Aiden Collins, a new bass player since last I saw them. They’ve got two albums out, with songs like “I Ain’t Leaving”, “Trouble Town” and “Wrong Side of the Road”, you can hear their influences in Tom Petty, Neil Young, The Beatles, and a little Creedence here and there. Giving a nod to these influences, The Coffis Brothers do up some decent renditions of songs made famous by those names. I think they drew the largest crowd to the Mountain Stage that weekend as well. As JBO has mentioned in the past, go check them out, you might just like ’em.
Closing the festival on the Sol Stage was Railroad Earth. It was perfect, just perfect having them on the bill. Roaring Camp Railroad kept the trains a runnin’ during their late set too! Love this band and the way they bring smiles to so many faces in the crowd. I was compelled to go up to Tim Carbone afterwards and let him know how much I love to watch him play. I could feel and see his joy – he wears his emotions on his face and shares everything he’s got with the audience. There is something about that guy. He gave me a big, warm smile and said, “I just let myself get lost in it I guess,” thanked me, reached out to shake my hand and got back to breaking down his gear and taking care of his instruments.
Opening with “Old Man and the Land”, a lighthearted song, the mandolin and fiddle make ya want to just dance about, grab the person next to ya and just keep dancing around and around…. “I’d like the days here. I’d like the nights here. Here I will settle me down….” Yup, kind of like how I felt about my first time in California – I just knew this is where I had to be.
Next up was, “Like a Buddha” – oh how I love this one, just love it…… The mesmerizing flute, the smooth and light fiddle, the twinkle of the mandolin, the strum and beat of the guitar, bass, and drums – it’s very rhythmic, like a quick and constant heart beat that steadily keeps you moving through your center, and has you grinning from ear to ear, for over ten minutes, while in pure musical bliss, like a Buddha.
Their spirited hour and a half long set included others like, “Chasin’ a Rainbow” that showed itself smoothly, right out of “Buddha”…… “Just chasin’ a rainbow, far across the sky. Just chasin’ a rainbow, ain’t no good reason why.” Reminds me of college, and Saturday afternoons with nuthin to do, so you add a little sparkle to the day and end up chasing a rainbow….. Sorry, another sidebar…. I suppose it’s fitting, to go off on a side note, something a little off track, just like the music of these jambands, the improvisational factor can lead you down some pretty interesting and colorful paths.
I like the spacey jam in “The Forecast”. This one is eerie, with lots of atmosphere. Kind of like the weather, when the forecast says there’s a storm a brewin’. Yet, I look up and the sun is shining and the sky is blue. The atmosphere I’m feeling is coming to me from the speakers. You could see it hanging over the crowd. I so enjoy the mellow and soothing “Black Bear”, an ode to the big creatures in the deep woods, and the one that allows Andrew to lay it down on the bass for ya. And their instrumentals, like “Gold Rush” and “Spring-Heeled Jack” really let the musicians shine, you can decipher each up on stage, musician and instrument distinctive and bright. This is the kind of improv that is like an open road, from the time you pull out of the driveway to the moment you arrive at your destination, feels like pure adventure.
Ending their set with, “Just So You Know”, Todd sends this one out to all at the hobos in the crowd that were at the 2002 Quail Hollow Station show in Ben Lomond. Such an fun song, it has an uplifting spirit about it, even though the words describe playing hard, traveling through hot deserts and cool fog, waking up tired to do it all over again, loving it, even though it just might kill ya. The line, “I went out to California, and ran into the Happy Brigade…” gets answered by a big old cheer from the crowd! And this is where Tim just lets go. You can see it in his face and feel it from his fiddle, the joy comes through him, he wears it like a big bow-tie, just right there for all to see. This, this is the song that drove me to go speak to him.
For the encore, they play, “Hangtown Ball”, maybe a little reminder of what’s to come, a little invitation to the crowd to join the fun, the annual party in the woods every October. And, the line-up this year includes five of the acts from this festival! So, go on, “Have yourselves a Hangtown ball, dancin’ to the banjo ?Have yourselves a Hangtown ball ?Look up in the moon tonight ?You’ll see me falling, fallin’”……
They finish their set and exit the stage just as sun is setting. I look up to a pretty splash of magenta/orange across the sky, take a quick snap and walk into the Barn to catch the last band of the night, the last show of the weekend, with SambaDá. I had planned to peek out at the sky after a song or two, see if the sunset had gotten any more intense, but the energy inside the Barn had gotten so high and intense I completely forgot……
Closing down the entire weekend of pure sol shine was SambaDá. Well, it is All about that woman. I absolutely loved her, them, the crowd. What a great way to end the night, the weekend. You could feel the joy from the stage. The audience ate it up. Afro-Brazillian music to the core, with a touch of salsa, reggae and a lot of funk, they were colorful and bright, energetic and filled with flair, they can bring joy to anyone’s ears. With a nine-piece unit, they filled that stage from wall to wall, using up every inch of it during the performance, and they filled that Barn from floor to ceiling with music that may have just lit that super moon even brighter. I can’t even begin to try to list their set-list, if they kept one. But, the one very special moment happened behind me, as I was looking up at the stage during Bob Marley’s, “One Love”. I felt a few bodies pressing a little closer to me, and looked over my shoulder behind me to see a huge circle opening up behind me, the entire crowd holding hands and singing along. As the band brings the moment back to the stage, the crowd lets go hands and people start jumping into the middle of the circle, dancing with abandobn. Sure wish I had my 14-24 on and ready, but I didn’t, so you’ll just have to imagine it… Or, I have a better idea, you’ll just have to try and catch one of their live shows! I’m telling ya, there was so much visually and audibly to take in – from the energy of the music, the performance level of the band, to the glow from Miss Dandha who leads with joy, it is a full-on experience.
Multi-day music festivals in California are big, sometimes spanning more than 4 days (with all the pre- and post- festival events), and often have too many stages and bands to think you could enjoy them all. We have Cochella (never been), Outside Lands (went once, holy crowd), Hardly Strictly Bluegrass (haven’t been in a few years, free and way too over crowded for me, takes longer to find a parking spot than the festival lasts…..), High Sierra Music Festival (haven’t been able to make it in the last years, and that place can get pretty friggin’ hot for this Buffalo girl), Bottle Rock Fest, Hangtown Halloween Ball, Strawberry Music Festival (I understand is in financial straights), Monterey Jazz Festival, Santa Cruz Blues Festival….. Some started out small and grew over time, some started out with the idea that bigger is better. Maybe not so. Take a look at Outside Lands – well over 100 acts (did I count 123?) over three days. You pick and choose which bands, what stage to stick by, there may not be time between acts to move to a different stage to catch anything, bands only get 30-40 minute sets, blah, blah, blah (Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it was awesome). What I was trying to say is, the two-day, that is just perfect. No rushing around a huge area to catch a few fleeting moments of your favorite song, if they happen to play it while you are at that stage. Give me two-day festivals and I will be there. No rushing, bands can really show their stuff with getting to own the stage for an hour or more, some over an hour and a half. This was just enough fun in the sun to be able to have energy and clear mind the days that follow. Come on, let’s do this again and again – Santa Cruz Mountain Sol Festival 2015!!!!! What will your Sol Story be?